Fifteen Things to Tell A Younger Me

As you’re probably well aware, I’m a sci-fi buff.  I love concepts like space flight, cloning, and artificial intelligence.  But, being a child of the eighties, there’s one that’s held my interest just about as long as I can remember: time travel.  Yes, one of the iconic images from my youth was a flying, time-traveling DeLorean, souped up to the ultimate machine for jumping through the fourth dimension in style.  So, when I came across Lazy Man’s list of things he would tell his high school self (using a modified DeLorean, no less), I knew I would have to do the same.  The idea of being able to undo mistakes, make different (hopefully better) decisions, and generally get a ‘do over’ on much of my life sounds pretty darn good to me.

Before we get to the list itself, though, there are a few caveats I’ve set myself, to narrow down a huge list and make it more manageable, as well as staying true to the spirit of the list, how I would improve MY life.  First, no warning myself about natural or human caused disasters (or other events) that are still pending for my high school self (everything from September 11th to the recent Haitian earthquake happened well after I started college, let alone high school); besides being a list of far longer than fifteen points, it would also affect a lot of more people than just me, something I doubt will be allowed by the Time Police.  (We could get into a whole discussion about paradoxes and whether preventing, say, the election of George W. Bush would cause time travel to not exist (since we wouldn’t be in the current time line, which leads, somehow, to time travel), thus preventing me from preventing said election, thus allowing time travel to exist, thus… and so on, but this article is going to be geeky enough already, so we’ll ignore that.)  Second, no sharing direct knowledge of how particular markets or investments will fare; I can point myself in the right direction, suggesting that I learn about investing and maybe a bit about home improvement, but providing a detailed time line of how the markets will move for next thirteen years seems a bit like cheating (again, I’ll assume the Time Police will get involved if I do something that could affect so many people beyond myself).

With those points in mind, here’s what I would tell my younger self (in the summer of 1997, before I entered the ninth grade, for anyone who wants to know exactly when this is set):

15. Study More. I know you’ve been able to make it through eight years of public school without having to really stretch your mental muscles too much, but high school will be harder (well…at least when you get to your AP courses), and college will be harder still.  Getting into good study habits now will make your life much easier in the future.

14. Stop Watching So Much TV. It was so easy when you were in junior high, to come home after school, turn on the tube, and leisurely work on your homework.  But it’s a bad habit, one that makes studying take longer and decreases how much you actually remember.  Either turn off the TV or go somewhere that you won’t be tempted to watch it, and do your homework and other work there; trust me, you’ll save yourself a lot of future grief if you can cut down now.

13. Stop Playing the Trumpet. You’re not really a fan of playing the trumpet, and sullenly practicing just enough to be mildly competent is going to cut into the time you could be using for something more productive.  It’d be better to just quit the band now, before you devote even more time and energy to something you won’t keep up in the near future.  You can redirect that extra energy towards other things, such as:

12. Exercising More. You’ve managed to keep pretty fit, but as you get older, it’s only going to get tougher and tougher.  Rather than spending your time watching television, get out and go for a walk, or ask for a small weight set and start to build up your muscles.  Better yet, join something like track or cross country; you’ll get more exercise, have better social opportunities, and have something nonacademic to add to your resume.

11. Learn About Computers and Programming. Computers aren’t going away any time soon, and the more you learn about how they work, the better off you will be in the future.  At the minimum, try to get a working knowledge of what they call ‘Hyper Text Markup Language’ or HTML; it’s what makes the World Wide Web go round, and you should know it.  The internet is only going to get bigger and bigger, and having the skills to interact with computers and generate content that people like and want will be an excellent skill to have in the future.

10. Learn About Investing. It might seem boring or pointless now, but it’ll be vital in the future.  Gain a basic understanding of how various investments work, the potential profits that can be generated, as well as the risks.  Don’t feel the need to jump into something until you understand it, and remember that anything that shoots up will eventually come crashing back down.  You can wait until your graduate from college if you don’t feel comfortable investing earlier, but try not to delay once you reach that point.

9. Learn German. Not just enough to pass the piddling tests you’ll get, either; build up your skills so you can actually hold deep, fairly meaningful conversations in German.  It’s always good to have some skills in a foreign language, and if you’re planning to go with the German Club to Germany itself, you should be able to talk the talk.  (P.S., once you have German down, consider trying to teach yourself some other languages, like Spanish, Japanese, and Arabic; all would be wonderful skills for you to have in the future.)

8. Go on the First Trip to Germany; Skip the Second. You’ll have two opportunities to go to Germany in the course of your high school career.  The first time will be after your sophomore year, when you’ll go with your best friend and some upperclassmen, and have a great time filled with memories you’ll laugh about more than a decade later; don’t miss it for the world.  The second time, at the end of your senior year, will be filled with drama, tears, and people you don’t really care about (who will refuse to drink any beer, while in Germany); it’ll cost a sizable chunk of money you could use for college, you’ll miss your graduation, and the number of good memories from the trip could be counted on one hand.  Save yourself the time and aggravation, and just skip it.

7. Be More Social, and Date More. You’re a bit of a wall flower, and it will hurt your experience of being a high school student.  Break out of your shell, be friendly, and try to talk to people, especially girls.  Speaking of girls, try asking them out.  Yes, I know, the girls you get crushes on tend to be popular and unattainable, either dating other guys or simply not being interested in you; rather than spending your time lusting after them, try asking some of the nerd girls in your circle of friends out.  Besides being very cute (as you’ll come to realize in hindsight), they are funny, smart and interesting; what more do you really want?

6. Keep Track of Your Friends. It’s easy enough to lose track of people over time; I handicapped myself from the start by not really gathering their contact information before school ended.  Don’t make my mistake; find out how to contact your friends (at least the few who are closest to you), and keep in touch with them as you go on to college.  And speaking of going on to college…

5. Do Well on Your SATs. I almost didn’t include this one; I (and by extension you, in the future) managed a 1450 the first time around without any serious problems.  If you can repeat that performance, good, it’s time to go to the next step; if not, keep trying until you get it, 1450 is a magic number for what you should do after high school.

4. Go to Wilkes University for Pharmacy, and Stay In the Pharmacy Program.  As you search through schools in your area, you’ll discover Wilkes University, which will let you attend tuition-free for your first four years, provided you got a 1450 on your SAT (see why it’s important?) and maintain a high enough GPA (not too hard, if you remember that studying comment from earlier).  This is a darn good deal, and you should go there and join the pre-pharmacy program.  However, do not, I repeat, DO NOT give into the urge to switch to biochemistry during your sophomore year.  I don’t know for certain what will happen if you stay in the pharmacy program, but if you switch, you will come to consider that decision one of the worst you ever made.  Save yourself the grief, and stay in the pharmacy program.

3. Try to Become an RA as well as a TA. You’ll be able to cut back significantly on your student loans (and thus, the biggest debt you’ll have when leaving school) if you don’t have to shell out money for a dorm/apartment for (if you followed the last tip) six years.  After your freshman year, try to get a position as an RA, as well as possibly a TA in the chemistry department (the first one I didn’t do, but the second one I did).  Combined with the tuition-free schooling you should be getting, thanks to tip 5, the rent-free living and money you’re making from these positions should leave you in very good shape financially when you finally graduate.

2. Start a Website. Assuming that you aren’t already overwhelmed with school work, being a TA, and being an RA, consider starting a website in your (hopefully still existent) free time.  Besides being a great way to express yourself, it’s a potential source of money above and beyond what little you are getting in stipends working for the university.  Try to pick a subject that will hold your interest for a long period of time as you build up content; if you’ve developed the same interests I did, you could try anime, videogames, drawing, or even organic chemistry as possible topics.  The important thing is, just try to put yourself out there.

*In An Envelope Labeled, ‘Do Not Open Until January 1st, 2007’ (Or a second visit, since I’m not to be trusted to not open something for a decade)* 1. Find Your Beloved. Well, look at you now; a decade of following my advice (I hope) has made you a much different man than I was back then, a better educated, more well-rounded, and dare I say, richer man than I was.  I know how this will sound to you, but I hope that you haven’t found anyone special yet; in my version of reality, I’ve met a sweet, wonderful girl named Sondra who frankly, just completes me.  You’ll find information on how to contact and woo her included in this letter; if you are still single and looking, please use it to contact her and start courting her.  Good luck, my alternative self, in all you choose to do in the future.

Now, this is of course just scratching the surface of everything I would like to tell my past self; I probably could have generated fifteen points just on how to get the most out of that trip to Germany.  (Germany Tip Trip #14: Don’t drink too much; you’ll have to wrangle a crowd of drunkards around Berlin at least one night, and need to be at least semi-sober.)  Still, not a bad list of ways I could have improved my life, if I had the foresight.

What sort of things would you do differently if you had the opportunity?  Is there any one thing you consider your single biggest mistake?  How many of you would break my rule and give your past self a guide to successful investing/gambling so that by now you’d be filthy rich?  (Be honest; if I really had access to a time machine, I doubt I would resist the urge.)

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